Jones Piano Music Lyrita SRCD410

Daniel Jones (1912-1993)
Discover the Piano Music of Daniel Jones
Prelude in D minor (1933)
Divertimento (1931 and 1935)
Thema con variazioni in D-flat (1941)
Legend (1941)
Sonatina in A minor (1943)
Fantasia in E-flat minor (1944)
Lento malinconico (1949)
Martin Jones (piano)
rec. 2019-21, Wyastone Leys, Monmouth, UK
Lyrita SRCD410 [61]

For a Welsh-based orchestra I played in many years ago, a share of local music was obligatory. For me, the symphonies of Daniel Jones – and memorably his Dance Fantasy, a gem – were in a class apart from all other music by Welsh composers. As conductor of his own works, he came across as a genuine, true-to-himself character.

The Prelude reveals right away an authentic voice, unpretentious but engaging and thoughtful. I also hear a little of the kind of nostalgia Brahms evokes in his late piano music (unexpected in the work of a 21-year-old), and occasional, indefinable traces of Debussy. Of the three movements of the Divertimento, the opening Allegro giocoso is the most attractive. The central Andante and the finale are typically direct, uncomplicated and charming.

The Theme and Variations, a touching piece, suggest to me something personal at its heart. I may be alone in finding little echoes of Beethoven here and there, but in any case it is nicely unpredictable. Jones dismissed all this early piano music because, I expect, he wanted more attention given to his symphonies. I believe that his integrity, even a kind of naïve honesty, is palpable even in these less important works. Apparently he quoted Janáček to his own composition pupils: “First maxim: Grow out of your innermost selves.”

The Sonatina is an attractive piece in two movements. The first is marked Tragico con moto but this powerful, though understated, music is scarcely tragic. The imaginative theme and variations illustrate Jones’s natural instinct for contrasts of mood and character. What I find striking is his ability to take a generic turn of phrase (or a rather clichéd manner of piano-writing) and make it fresh. The last variation, rhythmically obsessive, may well recall Schumann, but this superficial observation does not detract from Jones’s musical personality. The variations, incidentally, are a diverse and wide-ranging set of character pieces.

The Humoreske is a gem; its opening at times reminds me of Janáček. The next piece, the Fantasia, immediately drew me in; I sense complete honesty, a big plus for me, even if sincerity is no guarantee of compelling music. The Fantasia is big-boned, imaginative and capricious. The last piece, Lento malinconico, is again direct and uncomplicated. Paul Conway’s booklet note says it all: “nobility and tenderness […] defiance and, finally, dignity and acceptance”. The note is perfectly apt and succinct. Also, Martin Jones recounts a meeting with the composer fifty years ago and the discovery in 2017 of many manuscripts in the National Library Archive at Aberystwyth.

Those familiar with Jones’s symphonies – Lyrita recorded all thirteen – may find these pieces inessential, but I see a wealth of good music here. It shows, by the way, that a tonal idiom in the second half of the twentieth century was not an anachronism. To call music interesting is to damn with faint praise, so let me rather say that it holds interest and repays repeated listening.

This programme is a selection of Daniel Jones’s piano music taken from the 4-album release Rediscovered Piano Works (review). Martin Jones, eighty-one at the time of the recording, was still in good shape technically. He clearly believes in this intriguing repertoire and proves a strong advocate.

Philip Borg-Wheeler

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